Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And Normalizing Others is a Bad Thing?

I have written before about my appreciation for literature that includes LGBT characters. LGBT people exist in the real world and, given the extent to which those who oppose homosexuality tend to demonize us and deny us a history, I think fiction can go a long way in helping to reflect our common humanity. When people come to care about and understand LGBT characters, I think it helps some people come to see us less as monsters and more as people who are perhaps much like themselves. Even back in the 1950s, lesbians such as Jeanette Howard Foster recognized the importance of looking for reflections of ourselves in literature.

Unfortunately, some people, such as "Traditional Value" blogger Emissary take issue with LGBT characters in literature. Here, she recounts her experience of accidentally stumbling upon a lesbian romance in a book she was reading and explains what was so troubling about the lesbian character:

"First, [the author] made the [lesbian] character very likable. This isn't the first book this character has been in, and in all of the others this unexpected romantic side was missing. It may have been because the girl was younger then, but (at least from my perspective) there was no warning that she was anything but heterosexual."

As Emissary has entitled her post "Normalizing Homosexual Behavior Through Fiction," I gather that she thinks all of this- making a lesbian character "likable" and such- is a bad thing and that she doesn't think authors should make LGBT characters otherwise just like everyone else. For instance, you will notice that she complains that "there was no warning" that the character "was anything but heterosexual" until the character fell in love with someone of the same-sex. When I read statements like these, I'm always saddened. Many people believe that the LGBT rights movement is propagandistic, but people who believe that "likable" LGBT characters just aren't realistic have to be wearing thick, thick perception-distorting goggles of their own.

I mean, what does she expect, tails and horns? Anyway, it probably goes without saying that personally, I'm always delighted when a character I have come to admire and relate to surprisingly turns out to be gay.

Secondly, Emissary expresses disappointment that the main character in the book acted like homosexuality "was not a big deal. There was no extreme shock, no abhorrence, no indication that it was anything but normal and perfectly acceptable." It's interesting, this complaint. In the real world, to many people, homosexuality is no big deal and completely undeserving of "extreme shock" and "abhorrence." Is Emissary suggesting that only in fiction is homosexuality not a big deal?

Emissary claims to only read children's books, because adult ones tend to include "a lot of sex, violence, and profanity." Yet, as our blogger friend PF notes, in the reality-based world sex, violence, and profanity are all a part of the human condition. As is homosexuality and people who think homosexuality is no big deal. While perhaps it is reasonable to shield children from things that adults deem "immoral," I see less value in adults shielding themselves from reality as, well, I think the term for that would be Intentional Ignorance.

To sum this up, I think Emissary does a good job of discrediting herself all on her own. That is, I'm not really all that surprised or offended that a person who professes to censor herself from reality would suggest that gay people aren't "likable," like Normal People, or deserving of anything other than acceptance.

Anyway, whether your goal in life is to avoid or encounter lesbian, bisexual, or cross-dressing women in literature, I would recommend Jeanette Howard Foster's classic reference piece Sex Variant Women in Literature. First published in 1956, Foster's tome examines how same-sex love between women can be observed in hundreds of years of Western literature, as far back as Sappho.

And only a few of them had tails.

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